EDITORIAL: By opting out of French Open, Osaka makes right call for herself and her sport

Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open tennis tournament.
  • Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open.
  • Osaka cited her mental health in making the decision.
  • Osaka has said she suffers from depression and social anxiety.
  • Osaka had earlier said she wouldn't participate in required post-match news conferences.

By withdrawing from the French Open on Sunday, Naomi Osaka made the right decision for herself and her sport.

The four-time Grand Slam women’s tennis champion has rightly decided that her mental health was far more important than a possible run at another major title.

We applaud her for that decision. We certainly hope that by stepping away from the sport, she’ll be able to properly address her issues with depression and social anxiety.

It could not have been an easy decision. Still, it had become clear that Osaka could no longer fulfill the obligations required of a professional athlete.

Citing 'depression,' four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka pulls out of French Open

No news conferences: Before the French Open started, Osaka said she wouldn’t participate in the required post-match news conferences because of the stress she felt when answering questions from the media. She said she would pay the fines and hope that the money would help mental health charities.

The French Open, and officials from the other Grand Slam events, responded by saying the fines would escalate and that Osaka’s continued absences from required news conferences could lead to her disqualification from the major tournaments.

Osaka, after easily winning her French Open first-round match, decided to withdraw from the event.

It was the right call.

It’s part of the job: When athletes decide to pursue pro careers at the highest level, dealing with the media becomes part of the job. The attention generated by media coverage has been largely responsible for the popularity and prize money enjoyed by all pro sports, including tennis.

Athletes, if they fail to fulfill their media obligations are also failing in their obligations to their professions.   

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A matter of fairness: Many have said that Osaka should have been allowed to skip the news conferences because of her mental health issues. In our opinion, that would have been unfair to her competitors at the tournament. The media requirements would still have applied to them. Like any job requirement, it should apply to everyone.

Many athletes do not enjoy having to engage with the media, especially after losses. It can be contentious and painful. Still, they do it because they must.

Allowing one athlete to skip the obligation would open the door to other athletes skipping the news conferences. In the end, the sport would suffer because the media attention would eventually drop off.

Lots of blame to go around: That is not to say that the Grand Slam officials were blameless in this situation. They were heavy-handed in their threats of punishment for Osaka. With better communication between Osaka and tennis officials, it seems reasonable some fair accommodation could have been reached.

Osaka, for her part, was certainly not without fault. She acknowledged that in her statement withdrawing from the French Open.

“I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” she said.

Her mental health is the top priority: The most important thing here, however, is that Osaka gets the help she needs. She is just 23 and has already enjoyed a life of great success, but also great pressure.

She’s become a great athlete and a strong advocate for social-justice causes. The sport of tennis needs her. She’s arguably the most popular player in the world. Her sport, however, is not the most important thing in her life right now. Her mental health should be her top priority.

Hopefully, after a little time away from the sport and the proper help, she’ll be able return and fulfill all the obligations of her profession.

It’s a scenario that would be best for everyone concerned.